The pitfall to being a writer is that people expect you to be the final stop for all matters of the written word. You’re expected to know the finer points of grammar, and idioms, and what a dangling participle is.
People will insist that you fine-tune their cover letters and edit their wedding toasts. Much like people expect a physician at a cocktail party to diagnose an inexplicable rash in between sampling hors d’oeuvres, people expect me to know the proper way to link two independent clauses at all times.
The truth is, though, I am guilty of innumerable linguistic missteps. Fortunately, they often go overlooked because my audience has not yet begun kindergarten.
The man I was married to for many years, however, had passed well beyond kindergarten. In fact, he had completed 24 years of schooling in total. Once he completed his undergraduate degree, he went on to law school, followed by a master’s in law, followed again by a master’s in business. It was all really quite irritating to the one of us who fell short of matriculating medical school.
Beyond a proficiency in legal and business realms, he is the sort of person who can remember the qualities of a rhombus and why altitude and pressure affect boiling points.
He had one weakness — only one chink in his impenetrable armor — that I had to exploit liberally during our marriage: He couldn’t write.
Despite his inordinate amount of education, no part of composition came naturally to him. Not the spelling of words, the structure of sentences, nor the rules of grammar.
I once convinced him that the word “free” contained an “i.” For days, a large sign with the word FRIE scrawled across it sat atop some rubbish on our driveway. As ridiculous as we must have looked, I like to think that we provided a community service in the way of laughter. For frie.
Because language was considered my area of expertise, along with driving with the emergency brake engaged, I tended to exert my influence in our conversations. In fact, I inserted my breathtaking wisdom any chance I got.
The day that I heard him use the phrase “hunkered down,” I immediately interjected.
“The phrase is ‘bunkered down,’ like you’re taking shelter within a safe place, like a bunker.”
He stared at me incredulously as I met his gaze with an imperious look and a slight head shake, like the one you would direct at a three-legged dog or a younger sibling after you’ve returned home from one semester of college, knowing everything about sex, life and Asian dynasties.
“It’s not bunkered, it’s hunkered,” he challenged authoritatively.
“Look it up,” I goaded. “Google it.”
I sashayed out of the room, muttering about the tragic state of overeducated men and their bastardization of the English language.
And Google, he did:
A term morons use, particularly when bad weather is afoot, to which they confuse the meaning of “hunker” with. Bunker is a noun, yet hunker is a verb, thus while the words sound similar, when thought of in their linguistic context, one is blatantly wrong.
Because I had argued for the use of “bunker down” like I was lobbying for the preservation of democracy, I had to have my nose rubbed in this linguistic oversight for years. Any time he could organically raise the topic, he would. Any way he could naturally insert the word ‘bunker,’ he did.
“Erin, the Chesters are on the phone and want to know if you feel like coming over for dinner or if you’re going to bunker down?”
“Hey, Erin, it’s cold out. Are you going to send some soup down to the bunker?”
“Could you remind me exactly what type of person Google said uses the term bunkered down?”
All I know is that I need a bunker to hunker down in until I find a new language.
And a new husband.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.